Kansas Supreme Court asks local courts for plans to continue operations amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Kansas Judicial Center, 301 SW 10th Ave., Topeka

By close of business Monday, all Kansas district courts must have a plan to keep critical functions running, according to a Thursday order from the Kansas Supreme Court.

If a Kansas district court is forced to close because of an infectious disease outbreak and that closure is approved by one of the justices, the day will count as a “legal holiday” for the purposes of statutes of limitations, according to the order.

As concerns grow about the coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, the courts must have a plan in place to keep operations running.

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In their Continuity of Operations Plans, chief judges must “at a minimum” address critical functions and explain how those functions will be performed if the court is closed or has limited staffing for extended periods, methods for performing functions through web access or videoconferencing, and communication with employees and others who work with the courts, such as the district attorney, sheriff and local bar association, according to the order.

These plans, if not already in place, should be provided to the Supreme Court justices by 5 p.m. Monday, March 16, according to the order.

Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria said Thursday afternoon that he had begun to draft administrative orders this week but was awaiting guidance from the higher court. That guidance arrived around 5 p.m.

The Kansas Supreme Court’s order also requires that an employee of the courts gather a list of all out-of-state locations to which each employee has traveled since Jan. 1, and that list also must be shared with the Kansas Judicial Branch’s director of personnel by the end of the day Monday.

The order encourages judges and supervisors to “take steps to assure appropriate social distancing of six feet in courtrooms and work environments,” and it says that meetings should be conducted through telephone or videoconferencing.

The order says that any judicial branch employee exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 should not report to work, and no employees may return to work until they have been fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.

Chief judges must post notices to alert members of the public, parties and their attorneys to COVID-19 issues, according to the order.

Among outbreak-related problems specific to the courts are criminal defendants’ speedy trial rights. Prolonged closure of the courts or delays of criminal proceedings due to illness — particularly for defendants who are in custody rather than bonded out of jail — could potentially jeopardize prosecutions. The Kansas Supreme Court’s order doesn’t spell out how those concerns should be handled in district courts; rather, those issues seem to be left for the district courts to handle in their COOPs.

According to reports from the Associated Press, some courts — including the Supreme Court of the United States — have closed to the public. Others, such as federal courts in Massachusetts, have delayed jury trials set to begin before April 27.

The Journal-World has inquired about the Douglas County District Court’s COOP and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:


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